originally published December 17, 2012
A week ago I sifted through a lengthy list of eponyms in search of as much disposable trivia as I could squeeze into a thousand words. As I’m always eager to save some time on a topic-hunt, I’ve decided today’s article will be essentially the same thing, but from a different list.
Is this lazy research or simply giving the public what they want? I’m hoping it’s the latter. I love the public.
If it wasn’t for this guy, Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” might not sound quite as cheesily dated as it does, John Coltrane might have just been an anonymous junkie and Lisa Simpson would have had to find a new hobby. This is Adolphe Sax, Belgian flautist and clarinetist who decided he wanted to invent a woodwind instrument that could pass for a brass instrument at instrument parties.
In his mid-20’s, Sax relocated to Paris and came up with a set of new instruments that played off the valved bugle. These would eventually lead to the flugelhorn (which was not named after some guy named Flugel), but perhaps more importantly – and flugelhorn players will vehemently disagree – it led Sax along the road to invent the saxophone in 1846.
Seen here, laughing as he strangles a shark with each hand (out of frame), President Teddy Roosevelt left his mark as the most bad-ass sonofabitch in the history of the highest office of American politics. Ted had no qualms with utilizing his down-time by tracking and killing wild animals. One legend states that he once wrestled 73 bloodthirsty tigers on the White House lawn during a blizzard after having eaten a plate of poorly-cooked tacos.
It seems only logical that the thing that gets named after a man whose blood ran so thick with gunpowder and grit is a weapon. A weapon so fierce it can slay half a regiment merely by shipping it to the same zip code as the battlefield.
Except that’s not the case. After his presidential lackeys had rounded up a wounded black bear on one hunting trip in 1902, Roosevelt refused to shoot the animal. He was a sportsman, and it wasn’t sporting to shoot a wounded animal. In fact, Roosevelt didn’t feel it was sporting unless the other animal was armed with grenades and/or on fire. But he wanted the wounded bear to be put down in an act of mercy. After this incident was depicted in a cartoon, Morris Michtom, a toy manufacturer, asked the President if he could develop a cuddly toy bearing the president’s name. The result: a teddy bear.
No, this guy didn’t invent anything relating to clowning – that’s just how Frenchmen dressed in the 1500s. This is diplomat Jean Nicot. After scooting off to Portugal to negotiate the marriage of Princess Marguerite de Valois (age 6) with King Sebastian of Portugal (age 5… I assume this wedding didn’t happen right away), he came home with a bushel of tobacco.
The French, realizing that this stuff could become a staple of French Cool for the next few centuries, made it a hit. The original name for the plant was Nicotiana, but that didn’t stick. His name did remain attached to the chemical inside it: nicotine.
I’d love to tell another story about how this tough-looking guy had something cuddly named after him, like maybe his name is Daniel J. Furby or Roy Cabbage Patch Kid. But that is not the case. Henry here was a British Army officer. In 1784 he brewed up a fresh idea. Using a hollow cannon ball stuffed with shot (tiny bits of the enemy’s future agony), he rigged it so it would explode in mid-air, after launching.
The weapon was a hit (no pun intended), and it helped to integrate his last name – Shrapnel – into our lexicon. The weapon remained in use through World War I, and it earned Henry a stipend of £1200 a year, about £66,000 in today’s money. How many deaths his creation caused in its years of use, nobody knows, and nobody really wants to bum out his descendants by figuring it out.
On a somewhat less murderous note, John Loudon McAdam contributed to human history by developing a snazzy new way of building roads with a smooth hard surface that would last longer and be a whole lot less messy than traditional dirt roads. Simple enough: he introduced tar to glue the material stones together. They called this process Macadamization.
Not exactly a household word. But the material they use on the roads is a portmanteau of the effective ingredient and the guy who came up with the idea: tarmac.
I wish this guy’s name was Pierre Badhair because that would be a perfect fit. No, this is Pierre Magnol, a French botanist who helped develop the modern method of classifying plants. As someone who spends absolutely none of his time classifying plants, I’m still having trouble getting past the guy’s hair.
I could probably devote a full thousand-word article to Magnol’s published works but it would likely be so dull to non-botanists everywhere, I’d have to fire myself from my own site. In 1703 Charles Plumier named the magnolia tree after Magnol – let’s just leave it at that.
Here’s a guy who probably could have lit up a cocktail party. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was an Austrian writer and journalist. Leo’s work was progressive for its time, promoting tolerance for Jews and women’s suffrage.
Some of his fiction, however, got a little racy. Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing picked out what he felt to be a certain perversion in Leopold’s work. Von Krafft-Ebing hypothesized that this little quirk was not merely something Leopold liked to see in fiction, but it was probably something that afflicted the author as well: a pleasure derived from experiencing pain. He even named this preference after the author: masochism.
Leopold was fifty shades of pissed off about this. He didn’t want his private life to become a topic for public discussion. Eventually a few memoirs about his life emerged, including a few nuggets that affirmed von Krafft-Ebing’s theory. For example, Leopold had signed a contract with Fanny Pistor, his mistress, that made him her slave for six months.
Kinky stuff. And interesting, too. So interesting, I might just be able to squeeze a third article out of this topic.